Democratic Jews Break with Obama on Israel

Dick Morris and  Eileen McGann
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Posted: Aug 10, 2009 12:01 AM
Democratic Jews Break with Obama on Israel

Jews who identify themselves as Democrats strongly agree with the Israeli position and disagree with President Obama's on issues such as a Palestinian state, settlement construction, and trading land for peace.

A telephone survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of 500 American Jews who say they are Democrats found broad disagreement with the Obama Middle East foreign policy.

Asked to choose between Obama's view that "if Israel could settle its dispute with the Palestinian refugees and give them a nation of their own, that the Arabs would live in peace with Israel" and the Israeli government opinion that "the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel and that giving them a nation of their own will just make them stronger," Jewish Democrats sided with the Israeli view by 52-20.

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On the contentious issue of construction in existing West Bank settlements, Democratic Jews also sided with Israel more than with Obama. The survey asked them whether they agreed with Obama when he "says that it is very important that Israel not expand its settlements on the West Bank so as not to alienate the Palestinians," or with Israel that "it should be allowed to build new homes in existing settlements but not to start new ones," they backed the Israeli view by 52-37.

Democratic Jews still strongly back Obama in general with 92 percent reporting that they approve of the job he is doing as president. But 44 percent feel that "Obama is naive in thinking he can make peace with the Arabs" while only 37 percent disagree.

While a plurality of Jewish Democrats reject the idea that Obama is biased against Israel, half either agree that he is biased or are undecided. In all, 49 percent said he was not biased against Israel, 16 percent said that he was, and 35 percent said they were undecided.

By 58-16, Jewish Democrats agree that "Obama is doing a good job of promoting peace in the Middle East."

But Jewish Democrats share Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's skepticism about trading land for peace, the cornerstone of the "roadmap" to a settlement laid out in Oslo, Norway, in the 1990s. Only 27 percent feel that "President Obama is right that Israel should agree to let the Palestinians form their own country and return the West Bank to them. This would defuse the hatred in the Middle East, reduce terrorism and help America, the Palestinians, and Israel live in peace."

But 55 percent disagree and say that "President Obama is naive in thinking that the Palestinians would make peace, whatever they say. They will just use the new land as a base to attack Israel like they did in Gaza."

On the issue of Iran, Jewish Democrats are confused. While they agree, by 67-8, that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will use them to destroy Israel, only 14 percent said it was "very likely" that "Israel could be destroyed by an Iranian nuclear attack in the next ten years."

Another 37 percent said it was "somewhat likely" but 40 percent said it was "unlikely."

Jewish Democrats are not enthusiastic about Obama's efforts to "stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons." Only 40 percent said they thought he was doing a good job of stopping it. But, at the same time, by 15-62, they disagree that "Israel should bomb Iran to stop them from developing nuclear weapons."

Yet, only 38 percent felt that there "is a real chance that Iran can be stopped from developing a bomb without an Israeli attack."

Jewish Democrats heartily approve of Israel and most of its policies and emphatically reject any moral equivalence between the Jewish state and the Palestinian refugees:

Ninety-two percent have a favorable opinion of Israel while only 17 percent have a positive view of the Palestinian refugees.

By 81-6, they agree that "Israel is a democracy and has a free political system."

They agree that "It is very important that Jews have a country of their own considering their history of persecution" by 86-7.

Emphatically, by 9-75, the reject the contention that "Israel has become a bully, pushing its Arab neighbors around."

By 14-55, they disagree with the accusation that "the Israeli Army and Mossad are guilty of human rights abuses." Rather, they say, by 59-14, that "the Israeli Army and Mossad go out of their way to avoid hurting civilians."

Asked if "Israel is always trying to grab more land and throw out the Palestinians who live there," Jewish Democrats disagree by 11-73. And they also disagree with the charge that "Israel is intolerant of its neighbors and does not do enough to get along with them in peace" by 13-70.

The pro-Israeli mindset of Jewish Democrats is most evident on the basic question of who is to blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Asked if they agree that "if the Arabs lay down their weapons, there would be no more war. It is just their desire to destroy Israel that creates the conflict," they agree by 60-20. Likewise, they also agree, by 83-6, that "if Israel were to lay down its weapons, the Arabs would destroy it."

The fervency of their support for Israel suggests that Obama may suffer real political damage among a core Democratic constituency if he continues policies that differ so fundamentally from those of the Israeli government.